February 1st, 2003

Daniel Pipes Visits Hamilton College

A version of this blog post appeared in the Hamilton College Spectator (February 2003) and Capitalism Magazine (March 31, 2003).

Last semester Raja Halwani gave a lecture at Hamilton on what he called “the just solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Last week Daniel Pipes did the same. For those unfamiliar with the former, consider Mr. Halwani’s comparison with others in that lecture series. Ben Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld, a text many Hamilton professors use in their courses, spoke on globalization. George Borjas, director of a program on urban poverty at Harvard, spoke on today’s urban neighborhoods. Doug Massey, among America’s leading demographers of immigration, spoke on immigration. Victor Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, spoke on the relationship of past wars to the current war.

And then we had Raja Halwani, who, according to the blurb for his talk, “has published numerous articles” about “aesthetics, ethics, and the philosophy of sex and love.” The connection to Israel? Mr. Halwani, the professor who announced his visit informed me, “is a scholar who has written on issues in ethical theory and political theory which have been published in peer-reviewed journals.”

But does a PhD and publication in peer-reviewed journals on ethics and politics qualify someone to speak expertly on Israeli-Palestinian affairs? If so, then the Mideast punditocracy just grew exponentially. Surely, to speak under the aegis of Hamilton’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center and the philosophy department, both of whom sponsored Mr. Halwani’s talk, requires higher standards than this. In short, speakers should speak on the subject of their expertise.

Yet the further I researched Mr. Halwani’s credentials, the clearer it became that he lacked them. It seems instead that a personal friendship occasioned his visit. Indeed, in the Q&A after his speech, Mr. Halwani thanked—not the Levitt Center or the philosophy department—but the aforesaid professor.

On a related matter, consider these words from an op-ed Mr. Halwani penned in October 2001. “Anyone . . . familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must know the kind of oppression that the Palestinians have to endure under Israeli rule. The U.S. has supported Israeli hegemony over Palestinian lives without so much as lifting an eyebrow.”

While Mr. Halwani is entitled to his opinion in the first sentence, facts make his second sentence false. To give just one example, he simply ignores the existence, since 1949, of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), an organization whose most generous sponsor—contributing more than a quarter of its $400 million 2002 budget—is the United States.

His lecture evinced further overt selectivity. It also reeked of superciliousness, as when Mr. Halwani told a student, in response to a question regarding the size of Israel vis-à-vis its neighbors, “Well, I’ll communicate your wishes to the Palestinians, and get back to you.”

By striking contrast, Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank, has lectured in 25 countries, and his work has been translated into 18 languages. He has published considerably in peer-reviewed journals, and authored 12 books on the Middle East and Islam. The Wall Street Journal calls him “an authoritative commentator on the Middle East.”

I began my introduction for Dr. Pipes by noting, “Regularly, speakers lecture at Hamilton College. Rarely, however, do they bring to the Hill a viewpoint that is a breath of fresh air—especially on an issue that many intellectuals have made noxious.” As it happened, my words had an even larger meaning than I originally foresaw. The night before Pipes’s visit, Professor of Anthropology Douglas Raybeck had sent an all-campus e-mail attributing a racist motive to Mr. Pipes. Wrote Raybeck: “Mr. Pipes became the bête noire of U.S. Muslim organizations after writing an article for the National Review in 1990 that referred to ‘massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.’”

Alas, Professor Raybeck, a man of generally impeccable scholarship, though he mentioned Pipes’s Web site, omitted the context for this quote. In fairness, I circulated Pipes’s response via another all-campus e-mail: “My article points to two Western fears of Islam, one having to do with jihad, the other having to do with immigration. I dismiss the former, then move on the latter, which I then characterize in the words [Raybeck] quotes. This is my description of European attitudes, not of my own views” (my emphasis).

Thankfully, Associate Professor of Art Steve Goldberg also replied to the campus—with disheartening accuracy: “It never ceases to amaze me who on this campus ‘pipes up’ to caution us as to the possible biases of visiting speakers. Notice that when it is a left-of-center speaker, he is considered to be neutral and unbiased, thus requiring no ‘sagely’ cautionary advice. However, stray ever so slightly to the right and our so-called liberal instructors feel it their duty to protect us from thinking for ourselves.” Indeed, it’s a sad day when people, above all educators, allow their political ideologies rather than the facts, as they clearly exist, to guide them.

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